Comcast's Online Content Experiment Set To Begin By Year's End

The long-discussed Comcast online television experiment will launch before year's end, allowing viewers to — legally — watch certain shows online for the first time.

A couple dozen networks - including HBO, Showtime, TNT and AMC - have agreed to allow Comcast to provide access to their most popular television shows online to existing cable company subscribers. Time Warner is said to be next in line, if the Comcast experiment works out, and it's possible the move will extend beyond subscribers once the kinks are worked out.

It's up to the individual networks to decide how much of their content is available online. For example, HBO could release all seasons of "True Blood," while AMC might decide to just do the current season of "Mad Men" and Showtime could stream two seasons of "Weeds."

A&E, AMC, BBC America, CBS, Cinemax, DIY Network, Fine Living Network, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, HBO, HGTV, History, IFC, MGM Impact, Starz, Sundance Channel, TBS, TNT, WE tv, E! Entertainment, The Style Network, G4 and Fearnet (the last of which is owned by Comcast) have signed up to be part of the initial offerings. Several of the networks are owned by CBS, including Showtime and Sundance.

CBS does not offer its shows on, the successful joint project between NBC Universal and Fox. However, despite Hulu's growing popularity, it has yet to turn a profit. And Google hasn't been able to make the hugely popular profitable, either. Whether the subscriber model works in a medium - the Internet - that has wreaked havoc on other legacy media industries such as music and newspapers because of its free model is yet to be seen.

There are no plans right now to offer an online-only subscription track, but if the model is a success and keeps people from leaving the company ...